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Azad Championship Report - Viloria Becomes More than a Footnote

(Photo © K9 Photos)
(Photo © K9 Photos)


On the night of January 23rd, 2010, Brian Viloria, then the IBF junior flyweight beltholder, was going through what was thought to be a rather routine defense versus Carlos Tamara. Back at that time, there was talk of Viloria unifying his title with Puerto Rican stylist Ivan Calderon (who held the WBO strap). It’s the type of fight a solid champion is supposed to get past. No, Tamara certainly was not a club fighter but he wasn’t Michael Carbajal either. But after sprinting out a big early lead, Viloria suddenly hit the wall (and frighteningly enough, the floor, as he collapsed from exhaustion in the locker room, post-fight) and ran out of gas with less than a round to the finish line. Referee Bruce McTavish had no other choice but to stop the fight.
 
Stunningly, the “Hawaiian/Pinoy Punch” was no longer a two-time world champion.
 
But beyond that, perhaps Viloria was a fighter without much of a future. The age of 30 is usually a signpost of the impending sunset in the lighter weight divisions. And yeah, the 2000 U.S. Olympian had won two world titles but with the inability to hold onto those titles for more than one defense each, you got the sense that his career was a tad disappointing. He won belts but really failed to leave a lasting legacy in the sport. It may seem harsh but Viloria - who faces Juan Estrada in Macao this weekend (HBO2, 2 p.m., ET/PT) - had that same feeling, that he (in his own words) was just a “footnote in history,” a guy who could win a title or two but couldn’t hold it for long. He’d be that guy who would be forgotten as soon as he stepped away from the ring.

“That kinda stuck to me and I’m like, ‘I gave up my life for this sport and to just be a footnote. That’s just a waste of time, a waste of my life.’” said Viloria, who since that point, has slowly rebuilt his career and become an elite prizefighter. “I’ve put everything into every day in my training and I take every fight as an important fight and so hopefully, down the line, I’ll be recognized as one of the best lighter weight fighters in history. So that’s my goal right now.”
 
After his loss to Tamara, Viloria had a shaky outing versus Omar Soto (where he escaped with a split-decision win in 10 rounds in Manila) and then a seventh round TKO of Liampetch Sor Veerapol, setting the stage for his third title opportunity against WBO flyweight beltholder Julio Cesar Miranda in July of 2011. It was here that also served as the real turning point for Viloria. “You always knew you had a Ferrari but it wasn’t always performing like a Ferrari; y’ know?” said trainer Ruben Gomez, who has been with Viloria throughout his pro career, which began in 2001. “But you know there was a Ferrari there and so it was just a matter of ‘How do I get it tuned up just right?’ I think just before the ‘Pingo’ Miranda fight, I saw that change.”
 
According to the veteran cornerman, Viloria showed a willingness to do the little things that he hadn’t in the past, such as waking up at 4:30 in the morning to hit the pavement. Gomez recalls, “I noticed the change; you didn’t have to ask him to do anything.”
 
This was a seminal moment for Viloria.
 
“After the third loss was the turning point,” he agreed. “I gave myself that three strike rule and then the way I lost that fight; I went to the hospital. I was dehydrated and I knew that I was winning that fight, to have my body shut down on me. From that point on, I promised myself I have to change my life, my lifestyle. I had to start eating right, doing all the little things in order to have that longevity in my career.”
 
At that juncture of his career, Viloria was a maddeningly inconsistent boxer, one who could shine against the likes of Ulises Solis and then lose his belts to Tamara and, earlier, to Omar Nino, both heavy underdogs coming in. It’s the reason he had performed on stages as big as the Thomas and Mack Center (on Manny Pacquiao undercards), Staples Center and the Alamodome before getting relegated to the Alameda Swap Meet in rehabilitation fights. In many respects, it’s symbolic of Viloria’s career trajectory.
 
“It was a rude awakening,” Viloria said of his first two truncated title reigns. “It told me that I shouldn’t have let my guard down, number one. I shouldn’t have taken things for granted. It showed me that even though I was at the top, I still needed to work twice as hard, three times as hard, than I normally did in order for  me to stay at the top. Now that I know all these things, I’m mature enough to know how to stay on top of things and how to continue what I’m doing.”
 
They often say youth is wasted on the young. Perhaps but that wasn’t necessarily the case with Viloria, who was always mature beyond his years. But he was a fighter who took some time getting fully acclimated to the pro ranks. For all his power - hence his moniker - he still fell into the habit of throwing soft flurries instead of punching with leverage and momentum. Now you see a guy in full control of the ring with a certain mastery of technique and fundamentals. The guy who grab-bagged is no longer; he has a clear ring identity that he enforces each fight. Yeah, after a dozen years, Viloria has finally arrived.
 
“It is what it is. I mean, I still feel like I’ve got a long ways to go and knowing that a lot of my teammates from the Olympics have retired or are not fighting anymore, I think I’m one of the last Mohicans from my class,” said Viloria, one of the more highly touted members of a squad that included the likes of Jermain Taylor, Jeff Lacy, Rocky Juarez, Calvin Brock and Jose Navarro. Viloria has essentially outlasted and outperformed them all. “My passion for it, it still goes a long ways. I’ve learned so much these past few years and I’m just utilizing all that knowledge right now and trying to get to the next step in my career.”
 
On that warm summer night at the historic Blaisdell Arena in his home region of Honolulu, Hawaii, Viloria did enough to defeat Miranda and capture his third major belt. From there, he went on to dominate Giovani Segura, gain revenge over Nino and, in perhaps his career-best outing, blasted out the dangerous Hernan “Tyson” Marquez in 10 rounds to unify the WBO and WBA flyweight titles. It’s as good a run as anyone has had in boxing the past couple of years. It’s the kind that leaves lasting memories to fans and historians. It was the type of stuff expected of Viloria years ago. Many believed that after his loss to Tamara, it would never come to fruition.
 
Perhaps there was one true believer throughout this whole process, his manager/adviser Gary Gittelsohn, who never wavered in his belief that his guy was a legitimate blue-chip boxer. But even he had his doubts.”After the Tamara fight, I did,” he admitted, “because I didn’t know at the moment whether or not if there was going to be physical after-effects from his dehydration and I really felt it was a career of what-ifs. But to Brian’s credit, he was not willing to accept that. I mean, Brian came on the scene with much expected of him, having had a brilliant amateur career and Brian wanted to fulfill his destiny and he’s done that. And that’s all Brian; I’m thrilled to be part of the ride.”
 
Asked when he felt Viloria turned the corner as a consistent pro, Gittelsohn answered, “I think after he beat Miranda for his flyweight championship because he’s been on a run of beating elite fighters since then. Marquez was an elite fighter. Giovani Segura was an elite fighter. Nino was a very good fighter. ‘Tyson’ Marquez was an elite fighter. Those were all pound-for-pound fighters and so Brian has been on the best run of his career and I’m hoping that he will extend that in his upcoming fight.”
 
Viloria readily admits that, at times, he didn’t know what he didn’t know.
 
“I still don’t know,” he said before his day’s workout at the Wild Card Boxing Club a couple of weeks back before his flight to Macao. “I’m still learning at this point. I’m still trying to grasp every little corner. It’s that old adage: the more you know, the more you don’t know. This sport is always changing from fight to fight. There’s always going to be a different way to fight and I feel Iike I’m still learning this sport.” Viloria is now considered an elite fighter and despite being 32 years old, he feels like he’s got a lot left in the tank. “I do feel like that. There’s a lot of times where I only fought maybe once or twice in a year, so I feel like I don’t have that much wear and tear on my body yet. So when that time comes, when I do feel like it’s time to hang ‘em up, I’ll know.”
 
As for any chance of Viloria 3.0 overlooking the game Estrada, who gave the highly regarded Roman Gonzalez all he could handle back in November, “No chance,” said Viloria, flatly. “I know how important, how big the target is on my back. I know how everybody is going to bring their A-game, come fight night. And [Estrada]’s going to be training just as hard as he trained for the ‘Chocolatito’ fight and knowing the fact he doesn’t want to get the bad end of the decision and so maybe six, seven years ago, I would’ve overlooked him because of his name not being as popular as it is or not being able to overcome guys in the elite caliber. Now, I know how important it is for me to fight. So that when people say, ‘Who are you going to be fighting after this fight?’ I’m like, ‘This is going to be my last fight but I’ll win.’
 
“So that’s how I approach this now. It’s a do-or-die situation for me every fight.”
 
Armed with a new deal with Top Rank (where he will be one of the centerpieces of their Asian business), there is still much more to accomplish - perhaps unifying with Gonzalez or with Toshiyuki Igarashi of Japan - but it’s clear; Viloria hasn’t finished writing his story. And it’s more than just a footnote.
 
“People ask me what’s motivating me right now. I tell them, ‘Just to leave my mark on the sport before I retire.’”
 
HBO RATINGS
 
HBO sent out a release on Tuesday morning announcing that this past weekend’s rematch between Mike Alvarado and Brandon Rios (http://www.maxboxing.com/news/sub-lead/azad-championship-report---game-of-thrones-at-the-mandalay-bay) drew an audience of 1.2 million, a 45 percent increase from their initial encounter back in October (and I’m told the Nielsens only count those viewers who are HBO subscribers. This past weekend was a free preview weekend for the network).
 
It’s clear that HBO, which has been on a recent strong run, wants to make it very clear to everyone in the industry that it’s on their airwaves where you get the biggest audiences on a consistent basis for boxing. Right now, all the momentum is with HBO coming off their two most recent telecasts (which includes Tim Bradley’s slugfest with Ruslan Provodnikov). But this battle isn’t over by a long shot. Showtime, which has had its early 2013 beset by injuries and postponements, has a strong line-up coming up and won’t go quietly without a fight.
 
MAYDAY
 
It was made official by Golden Boy Promotions that former IBF bantamweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz will face veteran Alexander Munoz in his maiden voyage at 122 and a middleweight scrap between J’Leon Love and Gabriel Rosado will take place on May 4th at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Also on this card is a bout for the WBC featherweight title between champion Daniel Ponce de Leon and Abner Mares and of course, the night’s main event between Floyd Mayweather and Robert “The Glock” Guerrero.
 
Yeah, you’d like to have seen Golden Boy get perhaps a younger, fresher foe for Santa Cruz (but it wasn’t for a lack of trying) but top to bottom, this is a solid pay-per-view offering from Golden Boy.
 
GGG-MM
 
Multiple sources tell Maxboxing that a bout between WBA middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin and Mathew Macklin is getting closer to becoming a reality for June 29th on HBO. Macklin wanted a tune-up, having been in the ring just one round since his loss to Sergio Martinez last March but his handlers have tried to convince him to take the opportunity (and a lucrative payday on HBO) while he can.
 
This would be a solid bout and one that, if placed in New York City, based on the turnout on January 19th (and how well Macklin did drawing his partisans in when he faced Martinez at the Theater at Madison Square Garden) would also be a lively promotion. This could be an HBO tripleheader with the likes of Thomas Oosthuizen and Willie Nelson opening up the broadcast.
 
APRIL FLURRIES
 
Shane Mosley continues his career in Cancun, Mexico (a personal favorite vacation spot of Nick Van Exel) on May 18th versus Pablo Cesar Cano...Will anyone ever step up and face Gary Russell Jr.? I’m told the likes of Jhonny Gonzalez to Ronny Rios have declined offers to face him. Will he face Tom Bob Anderson (TBA) the rest of his career?...Jermell Charlo could be on Showtime, opening up its June 22nd telecast that will feature Paulie Malignaggi vs. Adrien Broner at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn...So does Mike Rice coach at Rutgers or Rikers? It’s tough to tell but is he coaching basketball or dodgeball? It’s tough to tell but his conduct is inexcusable...Anyone see the last episode of “Bar Rescue”? It was on “Dimples,” which I’ve driven past for years...Did UCLA or USC get the better hoops coach? And is either as good as Ben Howland?...Say what you will but Carson Palmer represents a steep upgrade at signal-caller for the Cardinals. Even Neil Lomax would agree...I can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com and I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing, where you can discuss our content with Maxboxing readers as well as chime in via our fully interactive article comments sections.


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